Epic Peeking of Pico De Loro Via Bonifacio Trail

For the running community and running enthusiasts March 15, 2015 was a rather busy Sunday. There were running events happening in a lot of places. Most of my running acquaintances were in one of these events. There was the run event held on top of the skyway ala Condura Run with 7-11 1500 Run, a marathon and half marathon in the historic island fortress of Corregidor with the Corregidor International Marathon and Corregidor International Half Marathon, a fun run in Pagsanjan with Run for Sagwan, trail running events in Nueva Ecija via Amokan Trail Run Leg 2 and the PDL 42 in Maragondon, Cavite to which I participated at.

I picked to peek the peak of Pico De Loro because I haven’t climbed it yet although the Salomon X-trail Run mentioned Pico de Loro. Conquer Outdoor Equipment backed PDL 42 was all about the one (Peak 1) near the monolith (Peak 2) in Mt. Palay-Palay under the Mataas na Gulod National Park. PDL 42 or Pico De Loro 42 was my first run event under the Race Director, Benedict Meneses franchise, who brought earlier another mountain trail run in Tarak, Mariveles, Bataan. Another lure that this event offered was the historic component, which featured the National Cultural Treasure declared Maragondon Church, Bonifacio Trial House and Bonifacio’s execution site, which now stand as a shrine.

The race was participated by 83 runners in the 42k and around 50 others in the 10k category. There were runners who just recently ran in the 102K Bataan Death March Ultra who chose this race as their recovery run like Arianne. During the race bib distribution there was a checking of mandatory gears composing of head lamp, cellular phone with the number of the race director in it, trail food, first aid kit, whistle and a hydration pack that could contain at least up to 1.5 liters. I totally missed reading this part of the instruction in the event detail sent online and had to hastily source some of the mandatory gears for presentation. At 4:00 am we were given our gun start. All the while I was thinking that the gun start was at 6:00 am and I only brought my headlamp so that I could light up my things while preparing for the race. Although the road heading to Maragondon Church then to the Bonifacio Trial House had lampposts along the road, individual headlamp was indeed needed so that runners could see the road and avoid tripping over the uneven portion of the road. At Barangay Poblacion 3 Caingin, runners crossed a hanging bridge that led them to the Bonifacio Trail, which was part rice field but under the din of the evening this could not be discern. The trail was dark that had many runners were getting lost figuring out where the blinking race markers were located. At this point I caught up with runners Mang Pong Narciso, Bibot Quillan and Edgar Vassayllaje who chose to tread the trail slowly and carefully to avoid stumbling down and getting injured. Mang Pong was one of the most senior of the participants who is a common friend to both Master Vic and Joseph Prince.

At the 6th kilometer exiting the forested area was concrete road and Aid Station 1. From there we found the road going to Barangay Pinagsanhan then to Cavite Provincial Quarry passing along the road heading to Ternate, Cavite. The former dark sky had given way to the light of day. The road was dusty and pebbly. I soon found myself straggling behind the group of Mang Pong who had picked up speed running the uphill and all. At about the 14th kilometers Aid Station 2 awaits the runners. I drank cola and swallowed my Saltstick capsule. Some sweets were also offered. After this point, some downhill on the road offered me a chance to race ahead, passing and leaving behind the BDM finisher Arianne but I could not anymore catch up with Mang Pong’s company. At the 18th kilometers was a fork on the road with a marshal directing runners to take the right portion of the fork going towards the first u-turn and checkpoint of the race. It only took runners about a kilometer to get to the marshal who was distributing rubber tags. On my return trip I caught up with Ricky Francisco. Together we returned to the earlier fork on the road and took the left side of the fork. After about 3 kilometers we hit Aid Station 3, which was also the former base camp going to the summit of Mt. Palay-Palay. Natural spring water was the main source of hydration. Since this was inhabited there were stores selling sodas. From here the trail led to series of streams currently dry. There was actually a detour that would take one to the falls but this was not part of the race route. Mt. Palay-Palay base camp is just about 3 kilometers away but the path contains the most difficult elevated portions of the race. However, having run in other trail run events before such as TNF, Salomon and NDTR, the uphill climb to Mt. Palay-Palay was much easier for me. There were other climbers also heading the summit, which were not at all regular mountaineers, which to me says that the trail was not that totally difficult. Upon reaching Pico De Loro camping area, which was filled with campers, our task was not yet finish. Our U-turn actually was at the summit of Peak 1 overlooking the monolith Peak 2 where a bag tag was to be handed to runners. But in order to get there we had to climb a much steeper inclined and powdery slope of the mountain made more difficult because there were excursionists climbing on it. But once you managed to reach the summit the view was simply breathtaking.

Mt. Pico De Loro (Parrot’s Peak) is actually a dormant volcano that stood at 664 MASL. It was much lower than the ones I climbed in Benguet and could easily be hiked from Ternate by anyone. That was why the summit was filled with people when I reached it and upon looking at the lower portion further away from the crowded base camp there a lot of tents strewn as if the whole people of Manila had decided to camp at Pico De Loro to escape the humdrum of the city. After the photo ops, being handed my bag tag and a brief rest, I scaled down the slope and forego my chance to have halo halo at Mang Rey’s Place. I left behind Ricky who waited for Arianne to have photo ops with her. On the way down the trail I was initially doing fine retracing the path in spite of the absence of race markers. However, upon reaching one of the dried streams I made a wrong turn towards the stream instead of crossing it to the other side. By the time I realized I made the wrong turn I must have covered quite a distance already. This was when my not bringing along a whistle came to haunt me. So, I relied on the built in whistle of my hydration pack, which was actually a strap with a hole that one could blew with. But the sound it emitted was not loud enough to be heard across the forest. I took out my cellular phone to send text message to the race director about my situation but there was no signal. I went on to blow my whistle hoping against hope somehow its pitch could be audible enough to be discerned. But no one was responding back. I could not retrace my steps because I lost count how far I was walking along the stream’s bed. I decided to climb out of the bank and wade across the line of trees. Then further ahead behind the regular pattern lines of still young and thin barks of trees, bathe against the light, I saw movement that had a regular gait in it. I knew it was one of the runners passing along. I shouted at it, I told the unidentified silhouette who was partially covered by trees that I was lost. He stopped and responded back. I ran towards the figure, running through the tangling vines and vanguards of trees until I could see the trail beyond the canopy. I broke out of the clutches of trees caging me and saw that it was Ricky who was standing at the path. He told me he was actually trying to catch up with me. Relieved of my rescue, we went on with the race homeward as if we just simply took a rest.

At last we were back at Aid Station 3. I retracted by earlier text message about my getting lost but it seems that there was no signal there too and therefore the marshals there were not yet told of my text message to the Race Director. In fact, my message might not yet even sent yet probably. After getting my hydration bottle refilled and eaten some nourishments, we went on with the race. At about a couple more kilometers we were again at the formerly fork road we came across with on the way up to Aid Station 3. We made another trip to the other marshal one kilometer away for a U-turn after being handed down with another tag. After this path the descent to the quarry begins. At this point my feet were hurting and I was really beginning to feel exhausted. When we arrived at the 2nd Aid Station we were told that hydration had been depleted already. I reckoned that there were just about 12 kilometers left before completing this race therefore I can hold on just a little bit more. When we reached the quarry, it was like we were transported to a desert. The sun was streaking hot, there was wind blowing dust sand sands particles in the air. The ground was covered in the surface with fine grain of sand. I don’t exactly know how I came to have my hydration pack close to depletion so quickly, when on my way up to the summit earlier, I hardly touched my hydration. So, I went to the shelter I saw along the way that I thought to be a public eatery. I wanted to purchase soda. But upon arriving there I was told they were not selling any soda. I could have a drink of water though from their container. After the drink, I rejoined Ricky. We ran until finally the trail gave way to concrete road. Then the marshal waiting there directed us to enter another trail that ran across a field and into a tunnel like path that led to the river. The river gave me a chance to moist my cap and doused myself with it. Then we crossed a bridge until we reached the path to the Bonifacio Shrine Aid Station 1 awaits us. My exhaustion was actually slowing me down. I wanted to rest more but we could not for we were wary that we might not make it to the 12 hours cut off time. In the Cordillera Series of Team Malaya, my 42k finish averaged about 12 hours. At the Bonifacio Shrine, I thought it was just a simply circuit run but it turn out there was still one more uphill climb to top of the mountain where again a marshal waited for us. After this u-turn we completed the run around the shrine and back to the Aid Station 1. We asked how much longer before the finish line. But there was a mixed reply ranging from 6 kilometers to as little as a couple more kilometers. So, we pushed on putting aside any thought of the remaining distance. We retraced our path back to the river then to the field. Then finally we were coming into a more populated area. We were already seeing in the distance the tower of the church. Soon we were again crossing a hanging bridge and spilling out a street that carries a directional marker leading to the town’s municipal hall. Finally we were circling the plaza and into the entrance of the covered basketball court that served as the race event venue. I arrived with a time of 10 hours and 46 minutes. Ranking 78 out of 83 runners. Another mountain conquered another milestone carved. I was hoping this would somehow help my performance when I make my revenge run at Salomon Xtrail Run, which had continuously denied me of my finisher medal for two years in a row.

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Two More Takes on Tagaytay

I just couldn’t resist the challenge of another series of Tagaytay route ultramarathon, making Luneta to Tagaytay (LU2TA) 60k Ultramarathon by Prince Multisports Event and the 50k Tagaytay to Kawit Ultramarathon by Run Mania Philippines my fourth and fifth ultramarathon respectively. Luneta to Tagaytay, my third 60k ultra happened last February 22, 2015 was already in its second year. The first time it was held I was in Baguio and was participating in Akyathlon 2014. Simultaneously happening then was another epic run the Manila to Baguio 250k run. This year there were a lot of other run events but I felt I had to run LU2TA. The symmetry it form along with T2K was simply too fascinating to pass up. In this year’s run there were about 400 runners who participated with contingents coming from Cabanatuan, Tarlac, Bulacan, Cavite, Batangas, Cebu, and a lone General Santos local among the participants. I was happy to be reunited with some of my Sungay 60k co-finishers Omeng, Jayson from Batangas and Thea with our tons of photographs from Sungay 60K Challenge. Also participating in this run event were some of my usual co-participants in other run events, Ricky Francisco and the 19-year old100k finisher, Rene Arroyo. My elementary and high school classmate Maritess also graced the occasion with her pacer Kathleen who was the champion in the Women’s category of the recently concluded 160k BDM ultra.

The gun start was given at 12:00 p.m. Runners went all the way from Kilometer 0 in front of the huge Philippine flag to NAIA Road via Roxas Boulevard. Since I have been running the route along Roxas Boulevard for a very long time the route did not anymore made any impression on me. Upon reaching the Coastal Mall, runners turned left along NAIA Road then right to Quirino Highway. The first Aid Station, which also marked the 10th kilometer of the race was in front of the St. Joseph Church. Proceeding next to Tramo passing by Diego Cera and the church, which houses the famous Las Pinas Bamboo Organ. Runners then made a v-line towards the Public Market that connects to Bacoor and had runners exiting at St. Dominic Hospital that led to Aguinaldo Highway. Pollution from the vehicular traffic was even more palpable here in spite that it was already around 1:00 pm and traffic was not anymore heavy. On the on set of the race I was already having a spell of coughing as I was still suffering from a two week long cough that hadn’t abated in spite of the rest I did already. Because I haven’t been running much in two weeks, I think I was a bit out of sync and weak. I was afraid I might even end up not finishing the race.

The 20th kilometer of the race was at Imus, Cavite. I ate the remaining Ham and Cheese Calzone I bought at Yellow Cab at U.N. Avenue prior to the race bib claiming and I popped my first Salt Stick Capsule. Along the way there were runners at the other side of the road running opposite our direction. I thought upon reaching Dasmarinas, Cavite there would be u-turn and perhaps enters a road that would take us out of Aguinaldo Highway, maybe along Daan Hari or something. But when I reached the 30th kilometer Aid Station in Dasmarinas and beyond it we did not encountered any u-turn. Those runners we met at the opposite side of the road maybe were just having a training run in preparation for the Tagaytay to Kawit ultra. The Dasmarinas portion of the race route had lots of steeper inclined uphill road. Omeng passed me by along with Gene brother of Jayson. The road after Robinson’s Mall was poorly lit but daylight was slowly creeping in the horizon. I soon caught up with Jayson at the 40th kilometer. The sun was already fierce in spite of being still quite early in the morning. Before we reached the 50th kilometer marker Jayson was reunited with his fellow Batanguenos Omeng and Gene. We stopped by for buko break near the Rogationist College. Gene seems got fired off by the coconut juice that he sped off. Another runner joined our pack as we proceeded with the race. We turned left at SVD Road and exited at Calamba-Tagaytay Road just beyond Estancia and Starbucks. Before heading off towards the direction of People’s Park we rested at a waiting shed. Jayson who was earlier suffering from calves or knee issues seemed to have had his second wind and was soon kicking dust. I followed in pursuit. By I caught up with Jayson we were at a tiny spinning wind wheel farm. Omeng managed to reach us and was turned into an opportunity for the three of us to have our photograph taken with the wind wheel farm. Gene was waiting for us just a couple of meters away. By this time we were just 4 kilometer short of putting this race behind us. When we crossed the finish line we thought we were among the last runners that made it to the finish line. But when we saw that there were still a lot of unclaimed finisher shirts and trophies, we were elated to know that finishing with a time of 11 hours and 30 minutes, we did not fare badly after all. There were like 90 runners still behind us. While resting we saw several other runners negotiating the final uphill before reaching the finish line. Among them was Thea who was preparing for 102 Bataan Death March run for a grand slam after completing a month earlier the 160 km leg of BDM. Master Vic surprisingly came in after about 12 and a half hours of running the course towing in line a lady he was pacing along. Ricky was also running along them. When we left the event venue and while commuting along the route we saw there were still many other runners trying to make their way to the finish line. I bade this event goodbye with a Bulalo meal at Mahogany with Omeng, Jayson, Gene, Thea and Anton. I could not say goodbye for good to Tagaytay for the following week I would again be gracing the place. But I promised that I would do far better on my fifth run and hope to top my Sub 8 finish at Tagaytay to Nasugbu run of last December 2014.

Last February 28 as I came out of the shuttle van that took us to Summit Ridge Hotel, the cold breeze of Tagaytay quickly wrapped around my body. I began to shiver uncontrollably. It was by far the coldest moment I felt when summer is supposedly knocking at the door of the Philippine climate. I was in Baguio last December running in the mountains of Benguet and was in Tagaytay when there was a strong storm hitting the country that was suppose to pass through Tagaytay also in December. But I never felt this much cold until now. Tagaytay to Kawit was Run Mania Philippine Promotion, Inc.’s 50k offering and my 7th 50k ultra. As usual it was packed with about 600 registrants. Grupong Bente Uno’s Lyndon and Victor were doing their second 50k while Anthony and Ann were doing their first. Ricky who also ran in LU2TA seem to have not gotten enough of LU2TA, proudly wearing the latter’s finisher shirt, he also was seeing action at T2K. I myself was quite confident that this run would be much easier than Baldrunner’s Tagaytay to Nasugbu – I thought wrongly of course – since the route would be mostly downhill along Aguinaldo Highway. But I would soon found out that the only portion that would be covered along Aguinaldo Highway was up to the intersection near Robinson’s Place, which lies along the 25th kilometer mark of the race.

At little pass 11:30 pm runners left the starting point. I started slow gradually acclimating myself with running. The pull of the downhill portion of the road was slowly tempting me to speed up my pace. But I resisted. I don’t want to tire quickly and lose power right at the early portion of the run. So my pace had allowed instead many other runners to push pass ahead of me. I try to picture in my mind the previous week’s ultra, the spots where I stopped for rest periods. But I couldn’t pin point exactly the spots. Then I tried to turn my attention to other stuff that would keep me from being aware of the distance and time I needed to complete the course. The cold temperature turned out lasted only until we left Summit Ridge. Most of the way was balmy. The Silang portion of the route up until the portion when we left Aguinaldo Highway at Dasmarinas was poorly lit. The incoming vehicles were for most of the time the only source of light that enabled me to distinguish the road. I reached the first 10k marker without fanfare. Unlike the previous ultra I ran at I did not try to hydrate myself every few kilometers apart. Instead I tried to take in water only after 10k kilometers at this early juncture of the race. This way I didn’t felt bloated. I wasn’t also hungry in spite having only Batchoy, which was mainly liquid at Ted’s at around 9 pm. Governor’s Drive, the road after taking left from Aguinaldo Highway near Robinson’s Place had uphill portions. I told one of my companions at the shuttle that there would be no uphill along the race. He might be in for a surprise since he was going to run the race in his sub 5 42k pace. My feet were beginning to bother me with some pains I attributed to my recurring plantar fascitiis. Or maybe it’s the constant battering of my Achilles to the ground. With this I began to do a lot of stops to rest. My calves were impinging pain as well but they were more manageable. The 30th kilometer lies along Governor Ferrer Drive. The route from these portion offered no interesting sight given it was still dark and we were running along the road which featured fields in both side of the road. By the time the Aids Station at the 40th kilometer, which was along General Trias Drive presented itself, ice cream treat was waiting for us. Light had already broken out by the time I was happily chomping away a Creamline Drumstick Ice Cream. I jokingly asked the marshal if I could dip in my feet in the ice cream container for relief.

After the ice cream treat there were just about 13 kilometers along Antero Soriano Highway standing between putting this ultra in the bag but sometimes the last 10 kilometers were actually the most longest portion of the run for me and every inch of my advancement were felt more like some bizarre exhibition of the Special Law of Relativity where in you’re the one slowing down while the rest was speeding up like the cut-off time. Distance seemed to stretch inversely proportion to the stamina you still have. I was sure that I would not be breaking any Personal Record I had with this race.

Eventually, I reached the gate of the Aguinaldo Shrine which served as the Finish Area. I was handed a trophy, a medal and posed for a customary photo-op with the Finished banner. I survived a back to back Tagaytay ultra the fifth Tagaytay series! Limping and chaffed I went towards the shuttle vehicle. Thank God I was not the last passenger to arrive as what happened to me at my first two ultra runs. But the passengers I rode along with this time were not the usual runners I was familiar with who rode with me in the past ultra runs. Most of the new passengers were younger with two still college students who were running their first 50k. This run indeed had many first timers in 50 k. What this tells me was that newer converts to ultra running trooping in after having ran 42k’s even for just a couple of times. While those who have ran about 4 50k ultras are turning their eyes on 100k runs. In my first two 60k runs runners numbered only about less than 70. Last week’s 60 k run had 370++. I have no doubt in time 100km would be simple be treated like 50k and had the number of runners swelling while 50k would be the new 21k. For now I still can’t see myself breaking the wall that would allow me to see 100 k distance manageable. With pains that continuously manifesting along my feet area causing my confidence to dip, I would just continue to wade the 50-60 distance for a while. But if all goes well maybe in some future time I would be adding Bald Runner’s Tagaytay to Ternate to the Tagaytay Series, which I think was supposedly a 100k run.